Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Exploring British Countryside...

Since I've started spending quite a lot of time in London because of work, I decided to venture a little bit further outside of "The Big Smoke" and explore the British countryside. Here's an illustrated account of how it happened...

Bath, Sommerset  (21.Jan 2017)

I cannot imagine a better way to get to know Bath than the one we took: by joining the 2-hour Free Walking Tour (guided absolutely voluntarily by 'Mayor of Bath Honorary Guides', it starts in the Abbey Church Yard on Sun - Fri @ 10.30 & 14.00 and Sat at 10.30.) & is 2 hours of high-caliber intellectual and historic entertainment that one cannot help, but enjoy.
Here're some things I've learned during the tour:
  • 3 Rules of Palladian architecture: Proportion, Balance & Harmony in Bath. Well, check it out for yourself... Pulteney Bridge, The Royal Crescent... I kinda understand why the whole city has been proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site...
  • Georgian & Victorian periods were all about walks in Parks (hence the abundance thereof: Royal Victoria Park, Alexandra Park, Park of the Royal Crescent...): "You put finest silks, finest tights, finest wigs - and that's just men! :-)"
  • Back in the day, if you were poor & didn't have money to be properly buried, the parish to which you would belonged, would make the arrangements for you. Therefore, it was very important to establish the boundaries of these parishes, so these were engraved onto the building structures situated in those parishes. For example, on the picture below you see letters S M P = St. Michael's Parish; and S P P P = St. Peter's & St. Paul's Parish. I wonder, though, who'd take care of those who died in that corner apartment of the house in the picture? :-)
  • It seems that the Stuart & Georgian periods were pretty stinky times in the history of England: as our guide told us "Queen Anne (1665–1714) bathed once a year 'whether she need it or not' ". Because even the royals couldn't afford to be bathing much, rich people used make up to whiten faces (as opposed to the working folk who couldn't afford it and would become brown working in the fields) and then draw blue lines on the whitened chest to stress their "blue blood" origin.
  • Acorns on top of the Circus refer back to the myth of how Bath was founded, where the son (Bladud) of the king, who was sick with leprosy & was, therefore, exiled from within the city walls as a swine herder, accidentally discovered the healing powers of the local mud when his pigs (poor things who have previously contracted leprosy from him), wallowed around in the mud & were miraculously cured. Naturally, he happily returned to the city & became king after his father's death; consequently, he moved the "headquarters" to Bath (which is where the "bubbling mud" was).
  • The frieze of the King's Circus contains multiple alternating triglyphs & 525 pictorial emblems representing all kind of symbols (from masonic to nautical...). Apparently, each emblem is unique, but I suspect that no one had the time to actually check, so we'll just take their word for it :-)
  • It was also interesting to learn about a possible origin of a top dog/underdog expression: as it turns out, it comes from saw-pits where wooden planks were sawn by hand. In this process, two men did the job using a two-handed saw. The senior man took the top handle, standing on the wood above metal pegs that were holding the wood (these pegs were called "dogs"), and the junior man took the a much the more uncomfortable position underneath, in the saw-pit below (voila!).
Alo,  we were advised to - when in Bath - try (at least) 4 things:
Sally Lunn's Buns - have dinner with a "Bath Bun" at the famous Sally Lynn's House. Sally was a Hugenotte refugee, who arrived to Bath in 1680 & since then became known for inventing a special kind of soft-dough brioche that consequently became part of the Bath tradition of having Public Breakfasts & Afternoon Teas. Fun to try, but don't expect anything otherworldly: it's just a tasty bread :-)
Bath Water (at the Pumphouse or the Roman Baths)
"Bath Oliver" - a dietary cracker (albeit often eaten with cheese), which was invented by a British physician Dr. William Oliver - hence the name.
[vegetarians, skip this one] Bath chaps - usually made of the meat of a pig's cheek salt cured or pickled in brine, smoked, then boiled, and coated with golden-tan colored breadcrumbs & formed into a cone-like shape.

Upon finishing the tour & not being a vegetarian, I enjoyed a delicious pork & apple scotch egg (egg stuffed with pork sausage meat with apple onion & sage) inside the Bath's Indoor Guildhall Market (oldest shopping venue in the city) ON (quite literally) the famous 18th century's pillar "The Nail" (which gave origin to the phrase "Pay on the Nail" as this is where transaction of business and prompt payment in bargaining happened).
After this typically British historic/culinary feast, we went to THE must-see attraction of Bath: The Roman Baths. Calculate to spend at least 3 hours there - the FREE audio guide is excellent & will keep you entertained along the way throughout this wonder of Roman engineering skills.
One of the weirdest exhibits in the Roman Baths are the The "Roman Curse Tables". Curiously enough, it seems to have been a tradition in the Roman times - in case something was stolen from you - to write a message to the goddess Sulis Minerva personally, asking her to punish the wrongdoers. Sometimes people even paid professional scribblers, so that they'd put the complains "in the words that the goddess would understand". Complaints ranged from stolen caps, cloaks & Bath tunics, gloves, 6 silver coins & often contained elaborate lists of suspects (in order to help the goddess to identify the actual wrongdoer). All curses refer to small & not very valuable objects. Curiously enough, it's the "little people" who spent money to curse the thieves, not the rich ones...

Bristol (22.Jan 2017)

Spent the day strolling up & down the Wapping Wharf Harbourside in Bristol, visiting the SS Great Britain, tasting a bunch of whiskeys from tiny little bottles & eating amazing vegetarian pies from Lovett Pies. The Squash pie with plum chutney & truffled mushroom with Swiss chard pies were so good, I'm considering coming back to Bristol just for them!!!)
The shipyard & the SS Great Britain are very entertaining & it's definitely worth spending at least one or two hours. When she was launched in 1843, it was the biggest ship in the world. During her construction she was known as the Mammoth 🐘 ). This 170 year old ship has voyaged 32 times around the world via Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope, and covered almost one million ocean miles. It has called at more than 15 ports around the world, and been to some of the ocean's most turbulent seas.
Starting it's career with one of the most powerful engines in the world (1'000 horse powers), it seems to unfair to compare it to any engine of today (just for reference, A Rolls-Royce engine is 70'000 horse powers).
Dropping by a pretty church or St Mary Radcliffe on the way to the Temple Meads Train Station, finished the day in Bath having an Old-Fashioned & a Drunken Monkey 🐒 (Monkey Shoulder, Ancho Reyes, Lemon, Goldberg Ginger Ale with chocolate & grapefruit bitters, atomized with citric water) at THE HIDEOUT bar which slogan is very close to my life's motto: "ask questions, try new things & make friends" 😊 Coincidence?

Sunday, 26 June 2016

London, Baby!

It is, of course, a somewhat weird timing because of BREXIT for this particular post to be ready, but here's my illustrated (work-in-progress) list of cool places to visit in the capital of Great Britain (or how it sometimes is addressed to now: "Little Britain" now?)
It's not so much a blog post, but rather a bullet list of stuff I liked personally or that was recommended to me by the locals. Any further additions are very welcome! In comments, SVP!

Restaurants (by AREA):

Breakfast (around Marble Arch):
Daisy Green of Portman Village (20 Seymour Street | London, W1H 7HX) - that's here because our offices are in that area & I wanted to keep track of the places to get breakfast around there.

Meat Mission (15 Hoxton Market, London N1 6HG) - very sinful burgers...My vegetarian friends, look away :-P

Covent Garden
Sticks N Sushi (11 Henrietta St, London WC2E 8PY) - Japanese restaurant based on a renowned Danish concept, offering sushi and grilled yakitori skewers; tube: Leicester Square / Covent Garden
Dirty Martini bar (10C Hanover Square, 4:00 p.m. – 1:00 a.m. tube: Oxford Circus) – chain, but quirky & contemporary cocktail bar
Abeno Too (17-18 Great Newport St, London WC2H 7JE) - if you like to watch your food being prepared inn front of your eyes, try okonomi-yaki at Abeno. If you're more peckish than just a pancake (but bear in mind that there're two sizes & even the smaller one is quite enough for two people to share if you're not starving), order spectacular gyoza with avocado & tofu - worth coming back to London just for another serving!
Hawksmoor (Hawksmoor, 11 Langley St, London WC2H 9JG) - great steak place, tube: Covent Garden
Cafe Pacifico (5 Langley St, London WC2H 9JA) - Mexican restaurant, open 12:00-23:45, tube: Covent Garden

Quirky Sketch (9 conduit street, London W1S 2XG) – pretty cool outlandish interior, toilets are a must-see :-)

Barrafina (in SOHO - 54 Frith St, London W1D 4SL, 12:00 – 3:00 p.m., 5:00 – 11:00 p.m.) - modern, Spanish tapas bar
Copita (27 D'Arblay St, London W1F 8EP) & Polpo (41 Beak St, London W1F 9SB) – both amazing for tapas & small plates
Cork & Bottle (44-46 Cranbourn Alley, London WC2H 7AN) – casual, cosy & rustic wine bar by Leicester Square
The Kensington Wine Rooms (127-129 Kensington Church St, London W8 7LP) – great food & wine, unpretentious
The Langham Hotel - Burnt (2015) with Bradley Cooper was filmed there; upscale, great bar & restaurant
Ottolenghi (13 Motcomb St, London SW1X 8LB) - expensive, but amazing meat – in Knightsbridge
Tibits (12-14 Heddon St, Mayfair, London W1B 4DA) - just like its Swiss counterpart, Tibit London in Mayfair follows the same concept: it's a (99% vegetarian) self-service buffet, where you pay per amount of food on your plate. According to the restaurant's own estimate, an average plate costs 10 pounds. I can confirm that it's a pretty full plate, definitely enough to satisfy an even pretty hungry belly.
Itsu  (all over the city) – sushi (50% discount offer 30 mins before closing: from 21:30 to 22:00)

National Portrait Gallery – café with views over the city (tube: Westminster tube, Embankment tube, Piccadilly tube, Leicester Square, Charing Cross)

Occupying the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, this slender beauty is a skeleton of a horse by a German artist Hans Haacke with a a London Stock Exchange ticker fixed to its leg. For those of you wondering: yes, it is a "contemporary comment on history, power & money" ;-)

Saatchi gallery (Duke Of York's HQ, King's Rd, London SW3 4RY; tube: Sloane Square)
Tanya’s cafe (35 Ixworth Pl, London SW3 3QX) - tasty raw food restaurant, tube: Sloane Square - nicely combinable eith Saatchi Gallery or V&A
Farmacy (74 Westbourne Grove, London W2 5SH) - that was - without any doubt - best vegan brunch of my life. Interior is exactly what you'd expect from a place that has such a name. You'll get your healthy shots in a surgical syringe (we got a "fire starter" with ginger, turmeric, cayenne You & lemon & "Melt Away" with ginko, turmeric, gotu kola, gardenia, milk thistle & cucumber juice - both were delicious!)
V&A - Victoria & Albert Museum (Cromwell Rd, London SW7 2RL tube: South Kensington)
Science museum (South Kensington, London, SW7 2DD) & Natural history museums (Cromwell Rd, London SW7 5BD; tube: South Kensington)
Transport Museum (Covent Garden Piazza, London WC2E 7BB), Covent Garden area.
Wellcome Collection - (183 Euston Rd, Kings Cross, London NW1 2BE) - Henry Wellcome's museum full of cool, weird & sometime even morbid curios (Euston Square), usually hosts a permanent exhibition on Medicine & a temporary one on some unusual topic (when I was there, the spotlight was on "Bedlam" (from British Royal Hospital of Bethlehem) - an infamous asylum that was founded in the 13th century & has later on passed on its name to all mental institutions.
Sherlock Holmes Museum (221b Baker Street, London) - a must for any detective buff

Places to go / activitites:
Southbank – (tube: Westminster, Embankment or Waterloo) - get to Southbank, or St.Paul’s and walk along the Themes to Tate Modern

A quick dialog I had with my friend in front of "Swinging" by Kandinsky in Tate Modern:
Me: "Wassily Kandinsky is known for his unique ability to convey music though his paintings..."
My friend: "Nah, I'm not hearing anything" :-)
OXO Tower  (Oxo Tower Wharf, Bargehouse Street, South Bank, London SE1 9PH; tube: Blackfriars London) - for a drink, food is also great, but very expensive.

“Climb the O2 arena” - tube: North Greenwich

From St.Catherine's docks or Westminster to Greenwich -> Greenwich meridian. Optional extention: Canary Wharf.
Shoreditch – graffiti, restaurants, clubs & bars

The Shard – tallest building in EU, cocktails for ca. 17-20 pounds.

The Roof Gardens London – alternative to Shard, by invite only (register for the guest list well in advance)
Sky Garden (1 Sky Garden Walk, London EC3M 8AF) - if you want to dine in a tropical jungle on the rooftop in London with a breathtaking view of London's cityscape, consider making a reservation at one of the Sky Garden's restaurants. If you just want a sneak peak of the view, there's also an option of just buying a ticket (which gives you access to the garden) & having a drink at one of the "open" bars at the top or bottom decks of the garden. We chose "Darwin Brasserie" & had an amazing dining experience. Do consider mentioning, though that you'd like a window table, while making a reservation & upon arrival. You might happen to "accidentally" get it anyway if they have a table available, but if it matters to you, try prepping in advance.
Cable Road Greenwitch

Bars, Pubs / Cocktails:
Nightjar (129 City Rd, London EC1V 1JB) - one of the most awesome (but also the most bizarre) cocktail experiences I've ever had! My drink of the night was The "Inca Cocktail": Jose Cuervo 1800 Silver, tomatillo, hazelnut oil, lime, chili wine, epazote, Fine Cherry & Agave, served with Buffallo worms on the side (yep, Buffallo worms are exactly what you think they are: huge worms!). Check out the menu online in advance in order to decide what bizzare work of alcoholic are you want to order!

Experimental Cocktail Club Chinatown (3a Gerrard St, Chinatown, London W1D 5PS; 6pm-3am) - speakeasy-style cocktail bar, often with live music

The Churchill Arms (119 Kensington Church St, London W8 7LN)
Bradley's Spanish Bar (42-44 Hanway St, London W1T 1UT) - Snug, upbeat, late-night spot with worn banquette, picture-laden walls and vinyl jukebox soundtrack
Walk around Dean & Wardour Street – lots of cool places

Portobello Road – antiquities – tube: Notting Hill Gate, walk up to Portobello Rd
Borough market (by London Bridge tube) – famous market, end of Southbank – probably a good idea for Saturday morning (get a glimpse of the Tower Bridge). Pop into the Southwark Cathedral (The Oldest Cathedral in London).

Camden Market – cool hip designer stuff (depending on where you are, a great way to get there is by the “Little Venice” canal.

Btw, if you're already in Camden, check out the Cyberdog store (Stables Market, Chalk Farm Rd, London NW1 8AH) for futuristic fashion & bizzare souvenirs.

We Built This City (56 Carnaby St, London W1F 9QF) – creative approach towards British souvenirs

Free London walking tours (street art, fleet street,white chapel, graffiti)
Skip the tourist bus & get on “normal” city bus: # 9, 14 & 15 – they take you around central London & those are the best ways to see the city!

Book of Mormon @ Prince of Wales Theatre (31 Coventry Street, London W1D 6AS) - an extremely entertaining musical evening guaranteed

Phantom of the Opera @ Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket
Lion King @ Lyceum Theatre (21 Wellington St, London WC2E 7RQ)